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Somber tone prevalent at angel investor forum

Pat Patera

Companies seeking capital at the Silver & Gold Venture Capital Conference in Reno last week targeted the four horsemen of the new millennium obesity, disease, depression and pollution.

Plus a host of headaches.

Nutrition Report Cards Inc. of Reno, for instance, outlined its mission to help the 66 percent of the population that’s overweight fight obesity and control diabetes. Its online dietary guidance system lets users enter their food choices, which are then rated using the familiar grades of A, B, C, D or F.

Thermal Imaging Consultants of Sparks, meanwhile, says it developed a system that can detect breast cancer five to 10 years earlier than a mammogram and without X-ray radiation. It looks to franchise or license the infrared technology.

And AKI Biotechnology of Reno sought investment to develop small-molecule drugs to treat heart failure, hypertension and other diseases. It targets hormone receptors, dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

And for those sick at heart and suffering from depression, Talk Life of Reno rolls out an online counseling connection. Founders say the remote service satisfies the cost, convenience and anonymity concerns of those seeking mental health services.

Aiming to reduce air pollution, Motive Engines of Reno sought funding to develop a diesel engine that’s up to six times smaller and 32 percent more efficient than those currently available.

Ionic Water Technologies, another Reno company, sought more funding to further its efforts to treat acid mine drainage. It takes equipment on site to clean up polluted holding ponds.

Bill collection, another headache, drew a couple of entrepreneurial entries.

InTunn Systems of Reno cites a problem faced by doctors: Medical reimbursement from insurance companies has become difficult and complex. It offers electronic health records software with an automated medical billing system that allows physicians to collect more money and collect it faster.

To help auto repair shops collect lost revenue, meanwhile, Moto Advisor Inc. of Zephyr Cove sought investment funding for its online software used to manage the service department.

And to ease online job search and hiring headaches, Innovative Recruiting Group of Carson City seeks to reintroduce the human element into the recruiting process through products that include career expos and niche job fairs.

Finally, for contractors suffering pain in the pocketbook due to the housing collapse, Home & Garden Center Direct of Reno seeks to expand nationwide what it calls its “remodeler’s paradise.” It’s a no-host trade show that homeowners can peruse at their leisure. The goal is to generate sales leads for companies in the home and garden sector.

Speakers during the conference offered tips to would-be entrepreneurs.

“Be a painkiller, not a vitamin,” advised panelist Donna Charbrier of Merlot Marketing Inc. of Sacramento. “Identify customer pain-points. Revise and refresh your product to keep it fresh and new.”

Steve Mills, partner at DCA Capital Partners in Roseville, Calif., pointed to skittish consumers, who drive 60 percent of growth in the economy. He said business owners should expect energy prices to remain high or rise. They’ll see yet more vacant space in strip centers. And Mills said he expects another stimulus package from the feds.

As the economy slides, Mills advised companies to cut costs and simplify the business.

“Renegotiate your lease whether it’s due or not,” he said. “Then shift from a defensive to an offensive strategy. Assess your competitors; they may not survive. And look for acquisition opportunities; cash is not always needed.”

In lean times, the marketing budget is usually the first to get cut, said Mills, but it should be the last. “Gear marketing to exploit fear, doubt and uncertainty.”


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